Now, consider the current model of schooling. In elementary schools in very many countries the largest classes are when children are very young; thus, when predispositions are at their most fertile we have children in classes of 30 or more. In secondary school we have ever decreasing class sizes which clash with the adolescent’s increasing wish to be independent at about the age of 14 or 15. Many adolescents, for the most natural of reasons, get completely turned off by schooling at this stage because it simply does not seem real in comparison to the emotionally charged environments they experience away from school with their peers.
To remedy this upside down and inside out model of learning we’ve got to go back to the main line of the development of the human brain as was largely being practised before the introduction of the industrial model of schooling. Such a model of learning would be based on a set of arrangements that mirrors, as far as possible, the biological process involved in weaning. It requires the development of a pedagogy that emphasises the young child’s mastery of a range of skills, and that child’s embryonic but growing ability to take responsibility for directing their own work and realising that they’ll be doing this for a lifetime. As early as possible the system must aim to get the child to be a worker. It is no longer enough for them to simply be recipients. As children get older their learning must be integrated into the broader life of the community with real tasks for young people to do, and real responsibilities for them to shoulder.
Elementary schools should provide classes for five year olds of no more than 10 or 12. Teachers should construct learning programs which combine — in the child’s mind as well as theirs — an understanding of both content and process in ways which make children’s thinking visible to themselves. This will significantly change the role of the teacher making it essential for them to model the very techniques of good learning that children will need for themselves. While good teachers will remain essential it is clear that successful learning for all will require substantially more than just the technology of teacher, chalk and talk. As a policy, investment in the technologies of learning should increase with the child’s age.
Now let’s briefly turn to the inside out part of the current model of learning. Young people spend no more than 20 percent of their waking hours between the ages of five and 18 in a classroom. However, within the community at large there are an ever increasing number of early retired people who are fit and strong and have many professional skills. At the moment they are largely wasted in terms of helping young people’s learning. Immediately such people don’t want to become teachers, but many would be interested in sharing their expertise with young people informally. These are just the people that adolescents need to be able to relate to — almost surrogate grandparents. These people need to be recruited to work with young people.
If a formal education system starts with classes of 10 or 12, but limits overall expenditure to no more than at the present, that would suggest classes of 40 or more at the age of 18. But that need not be the case. If schools do their job properly when children are getting such intensive support in the earliest years then it would actually be better for them if, probably before the age of 16, little more than half their classes would be formally taught. For much of the time it would be more helpful to them if they learnt to work on their own, and accessed the rich learning resources that schools and community mentors would then be able to provide. Too much instruction makes young people too dependent on the teacher.
We now have it within our power to construct models of learning which go with the grain of the brain while at the same time reconnecting adults and children outside the formal setting of a school.